You aren’t strategic enough… or are you? (video transcript)

Have you ever had a performance review, or a 360 feedback, or a development conversation where you got the feedback that you just weren’t ‘strategic’?

If you’re like me, you find feedback like that so infuriating.

Read on to discover what ‘strategic’ actually means, and what you can do differently to change how you’re perceived to get those plum opportunities that you’re looking for.

Stop making anti-strategic contributions

The first thing you need to do is stop making contributions that people perceive as anti-strategic – in other words, tactical contributions.

So what does that look like? Tactical people are often people who talk about what ‘is’ rather than what ‘could be’. This can happen when team members put out hypothetical situations and your response is to go from something future oriented and bring it back to the present.

That can make them feel like you’re yanking them back into something very tactical, which won’t help with perceptions of you being strategic. Reducing the amount of references you make to the present situation as it stands will help change this perception.

Avoid being internally focused

People who talk about how the organization runs and focus on operations or processes tend to be perceived as tactical, whereas people who talk about the markets, the customer and how the industry’s changing are perceived as more strategic.

Ideally you want to make fewer contributions to the conversation regarding things happening internally.

This can be done in part by avoiding statements starting with ‘but’. Responses to other people’s ideas with things like “But we tried that in 2002” or “But it won’t work because of this” can really brand you as somebody who kills strategy, or who ruins the mojo of a strategic conversation. So watch out for ‘but’.

Avoid focusing on strengths and weaknesses

Strategy is really about diverging – understanding what the options are and how you could differentiate – whereas being tactical is more about converging.

If you constantly focus on strengths and weaknesses – in other words, when in a conversation about possibility you’re bringing it back to reality – you’re going to be perceived as more tactical.

So, now that we’ve talked about the things that you can do a lot less of, let’s talk about the things you need to do more of. Remember: it’s not enough to just avoid being unstrategic. You actually need to make contributions that will have you be perceived as strategic.

Lengthen your time horizon

Tactical people often talk about the here and now, whereas strategic people talk about next quarter, next year, where things are going.

Asking questions, as opposed to making assertions or statements, will lead to opening up new possibilities rather than simply focusing on the definitive here and now.

Understand how your business makes money

There are so many examples of places where the business makes money in different ways than is necessarily apparent.

Taking Starbucks as an example, there is the obvious B2C transaction of a customer buying a coffee. However, when you load money onto a Starbucks card, all of a sudden they become a bank, earning interest on the money you are loaning them until your next beverage.

The more you understand that, the more you understand what the possibilities are and where disruption might come from.

Understanding macro trends in the economy

There are many things that are cutting across industries that are macro trends important to business, such as verticalization, where companies that used to secure supply from others are now actually building those things themselves so they’re not dependent on anyone else.

One notable mega trend is the switch from companies selling a product to their customers selling subscriptions. This can be seen in the Netflix model, where now you don’t rent one DVD but instead pay a subscription so that you can watch as many movies as you want.

Understanding these sorts of macro trends helps you identify how they can affect your own business role, and can be a very useful way of contributing something of strategic value to your team.

Strategic people make tough choices. If you show that you listen, that you can envision different possible futures and you’re willing to change your opinion or your approach, you can prove that you make strategic choices based on evidence. You’re not just somebody with a load of opinions that they throw out and really just act in the moment. That will certainly help change your brand from a tactical person to a strategic person.

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